Swimming is one activity that almost all parents want their children to learn. It’s not just because it’s fun and healthy for them but also for safety reasons.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Accidental drowning accounted for 19% of all child injury deaths between 1999 and 2003. 80% of child drowning deaths were of children aged under 5 years (229 children). Most of these were 1-4 year olds, who are more mobile than infants but are still developing motor skills and not of an age to judge hazards. The death rate from accidental drowning for 1-4 year olds (3.9 per 100,000) was higher than for all age groupings for both children and adults.”
The Foundation for Aquatic Injury Prevention stated:
- In 1996, nearly 1,000 children ages 14 and under drowned. Children ages 4 and under accounted for nearly half of these deaths.
- More than 85 percent of drownings among children ages 1 to 4 are pool related.
- Among children ages 4 and under, there are approximately 375 residential swimming pool drownings and 2,900 near-drownings requiring hospital emergency room treatment each year. More than half of these drownings occur in the child’s home pool and one-third at the homes of friends, neighbors or relatives.
- The majority of children who drown in swimming pools were last seen in the home, had been missing from sight for less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time of the drowning.
As a child, I thank my parents for letting me enroll in swimming lessons. At 6 or 7, I learned the basic swimming skills over the summer. A year after, I formally learned the basic techniques of freestyle and backstroke. A couple of years after, I was enrolled in advanced classes. Honestly, I can’t remember a time that I was afraid of the water. The only reason that I held back on swimming was because of a recurring (and very painful) swimmer’s ear almost every year.
Now as a parent, I also want my little girl to enjoy the water as I did. Seeing my daughter run excitedly towards the edge of a pool always gives me a mild heart attack because I know that a few seconds of misjudgment can be detrimental. The only way I can overcome this fear, and possible her fear as well, is to prepare and equip her with the proper knowledge by letting her take swimming classes.
We’re lucky that there are classes for all ages her in our local area. Their advertisement said from ages 0 to 80 so I decided to give them a call. Basic swimming classes are given to children and adults aged 4 and above. Unfortunately, my little girl is 3.5 so she has to take a special swim class called Drownproofing for aged 0 to 3.11. Younger children take the swim class with a parent while 3 year-olds have the option to take the swimming classes on their own, depending on their “independence”.
Before my little girl and her swim coach started their lesson, I was given a few pointers. The coach, Mike, assured me that if the child resists, he would be taking it easy and that I shouldn’t expect too much “swimming results“. He wanted my daughter to trust him, to feel comfortable in the water in order to prevent any fear of water or Aquaphobia.
At the start, my little girl hesitated. She even cried when she had her first gulp of water. She said she was scared but Coach Mike always assured her that he will never let her go. Actually, I was pretty impressed at how he handled the lesson. When my daughter would pull back, he’d change tactics by letting her do something easy, something that she’s familiar with. He kept doing that until little by little, my daughter became confident that she’s safe and that he’s only trying to teach her something.
At the end of their first lesson, I asked Coach Mike what my little girl is supposed to learn from all this. He said that at minimum she’ll learn to dip her head under the water, hold her breath for a few seconds, blow bubbles through her nose underwater and possibly float on her back as if she were “swimming”.
So that was drownproofing. It’s basically teaching toddlers the basics of swimming, not in terms of strokes or techniques, but possibly how to survive or cope in a drowning situation. Teaching a toddler how to turn and float on her back may not really save her, if she were on her own, which is why some articles insist that the term “drownproofing” is misleading… at least for parents. The term makes parents believe that their children will no longer drown after taking such class but in reality, the skills taught in this basic class is not enough to guarantee safety from drowning. Keeping children safe from drowning is ultimately the parents’ responsibility.
Royal Life Saving Society in Australia still insists on the four points of their Keep Watch Campaign – Supervision, Fence your pool, Familiarize the child with water, and most importantly, Learn Resuscitation. An article in US News Health still stated that playing [or familiarizing children with] in the pool and drownproofing isn’t enough to prevent injury. Formal swimming lessons [should be given] where children are actually taught to swim, not the old ‘drownproofing’ classes.
Even before I read all this, I asked Coach Mike if it would be beneficial if my little girl continues her lessons after their drownproofing class. He advised that some children her age may not have the physical skills to learn and remember the techniques but we can play it by ear.
The important thing for her to learn now is not to be afraid of the water, and slowly develop the techniques that she will be needing when moving on to the next level. The important thing for me, and any other parent, to remember is that whether our children learn how to swim or not, whether they’ve gone through drownproofing, basic, or advanced classes, we should NEVER let them swim without supervision. If older children, teenagers, and even adults who already KNOW how to swim DROWN, our babies – trained or not – may also be victims of drowning if we don’t do our jobs as parents.
Stay tuned to following posts as I try to update you with what my little girl learns every session.
Sources: Australian Bureau of Statistics Foundation for Aquatic Injury and Prevention Royal Life Saving Society - Australia US News Health